Andrew Rawnsley’s account of Gordon Brown’s years in power, and the reaction to it, suggest that the dark arts of spin are still in use at Downing Street.
Brown promised a more straight forward approach to dealing with the press when he took over from Tony Blair as Prime Minister in 2007.
But the Rawnsley book, serialised in yesterday’s relaunched Observer, claims that former Blair advisor Damian McBride was spinning frantically on Saturday, 6 October, the day Brown told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that he had decided not to hold a widely anticipated early general election.
Rawnsley writes: “Damian McBride spent the Sunday afternoon on the phone to journalists of Sunday newspapers. He was spinning all of the blame on to Douglas Alexander, Spencer Livermore and Ed Miliband.
“Several reporters were successfully persuaded that they were at fault for pushing Brown towards an election and then getting cold feet.”
The Guardian today reports that Rawnsley put the key allegations about alleged bullying and temper tantrums on the part of Gordon Brown to Downing Street before his book – The End of the Party – went to print.
Shortly afterwards, on 31 January, Mail on Sunday political editor Simon Walters published a story detailing the key allegations in the Rawnsley book, The Guardian reports.
According to The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour writing today: “Rawnsley’s publishers, Penguin, became convinced Walters had been fed the story by No 10 on the basis of charges put to them by Rawnsley. The aim was to weaken the impact of the book in a classic spoiler.”
Downing Street strongly denied the Rawnsley allegations over the weekend, saying in an official statement: “These malicious allegations are totally without foundation and have never been put to Number Ten.”
Observer associate editor Rawnsley anticipated this response writing in The Observer yesterday.
He said: “The book draws on multiple sources. The text is informed by the thousands of confidential conversations that I have had with the principal figures of New Labour and many other pivotal figures over some two decadesâ€¦.In all more than 500 witnesses have contributed to this bookâ€¦
“I approached this subject acutely aware that a rumour is not the same as a fact. I set a rule that I would not publish anything about an episode involving abusive behaviour unless I had secured utterly reliable accountsâ€¦
“I won’t be at all surprised if some of the episodes are nevertheless denied – or ‘furiously denied’ as political reporters now commonly describe the response from Number 10 to revelations which are damaging to the Prime Minister. Journalists are never popular with the powerful when they discover uncomfortable truths about the people who govern us.”
Rawnsley said that many of the events in his previous book about Labour, Servants of the People, were also “furiously denied” only later to be confirmed by the release of official papers and by subsequent insider memoirs.
Responding to possible concerns about the damage his book might do to Labour on the eve of a general election, Rawnsley said: “It is a journalist’s duty to both himself and to his readers to be unflinchingly truthful about the flaws of the powerful.”
Responding to criticisms that many of the most damaging allegations in the book appear to rely on un-named sources, Rawnsley said: “Some interviewees, especially serving senior civil servants and Number 10 aides, are often only willing to be frank if interviewed wholly or partially off the record.”